8-11 October 2020

New Orleans, LA, USA

HSS 2020

Greetings from Nola graphic

The History of Science Society (HSS) will hold its 2020 Annual Meeting jointly with the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) in the fascinating city of New Orleans.

That HSS and SHOT have chosen to co-locate in New Orleans in 2020, the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 10th anniversary of the Deep Horizon oil spill, is no small matter. This co-mingling of associations offers scholars a splendid opportunity to reflect on the relationship between the environment, infrastructure, and social justice and how these elements contribute to the ongoing story of New Orleans and to the maintenance of our modern world.

New Orleans: a fabled, hemispheric crossroads with an unmatched joie de vivre

New Orleans. The name alone conjures a host of images: exotic food, magnificent architecture, distinct music and dialects, and devastating hurricanes. Playwright Tennessee Williams famously labeled it the last frontier of Bohemia. For some, it is the most European of American cities. For others, it is the northern most Caribbean port.

Nicknamed the Crescent City because of its rather unique geography—the Mississippi River curves deeply around its urbanized core—New Orleans is a vital commercial center for both domestic and global trade and consistently ranks as a top destination for national and international tourists. Located near the mouth of the continent’s largest river, its port provides access to thirty-plus major inland hubs via 14,000 miles of waterways, six Class 1 railroads, and interstate roads. One third of all seafood consumed in the United States originates from Louisiana, with much of it harvested and processed near New Orleans. Additionally, with 88 percent of the country’s offshore oil and gas rigs located off Louisiana’s shore, the Greater New Orleans region is one of the world’s leading markets for energy and petrochemical production, processing, and transportation.

The city’s substantial cultural and economic presence belies its precarious environmental and social realities, however. Founded as a French colonial capital in 1718 on a deltaic lobe formed nearly two thousand years after the great pyramids of Giza were built, its residents have waged a constant battle to hold the surrounding water at bay. Today, nearly half of New Orleans exists below sea level. Indeed, the channelization of the Mississippi River, coupled with the vast pumping system constructed to drain storm water from the interior bowl created by the levees, has deprived the landscape of the sediment that a naturally overflowing river provides. The result is an actively sinking city, despite the injection of billions in federal post-Hurricane Katrina recovery aid. And with nearly twenty percent of its citizens, 60 percent of whom are people of color, living at or below the poverty line, New Orleans remains one of the nation’s poorest metropolitan areas, a grim reminder of its past status as the largest slave market in North America. Moreover, the 85-mile corridor of petrochemical and plastic refineries and plants above New Orleans, many of which are located on former sugar plantations, is widely reported to have some of America’s highest levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the air.

To assert that New Orleans has a troubled, dichotomous history is to state the obvious. And yet she persists, a fabled, hemispheric crossroads with an unmatched joie de vivre. That HSS and SHOT have chosen to co-locate in New Orleans in 2020, the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 10th anniversary of the Deep Horizon oil spill, is no small matter. This co-mingling of associations offers scholars a splendid opportunity to reflect on the relationship between the environment, infrastructure, and social justice and how these elements contribute to the ongoing story of New Orleans and to the maintenance of our modern world.

The HSS welcomes proposal submissions on any topic in the history of science.